Just about a year ago, YouTube launched its “channels” plan, where it handed out millions to dozens of video creators in the hopes of making the site more TV-like.
The project is very much an experiment — both for Google and the video creators it has funded. Here’s a report card from one of them: R.J. Williams, a former child actor turned TV producer, who created a “Young Hollywood” channel for YouTube.
Williams had already been using that same brand to create “Entertainment Tonight”-style programming for other online outlets, like Yahoo and Hulu. But the new channel was supposed to cater specifically to YouTube’s audience. And as Williams has figured out over the last nine months, that’s different than the rest of the Web.
Peter Kafka: You guys were one of the first of the new YouTube channels to launch, back in January. How’s it going?
R.J. Williams: Great. We started out doing 1.5 million, 2 million views a month. Now we’re at 5 million, and we’ve earned back our advance. We’ve also learned a lot. There have been findings that have had us shift our programming strategy, and that’s helped tremendously. There were things I wish we knew earlier.
The biggest eye-opener for me was going to VidCon [the Web video convention] in June. I don’t think I truly understood the audience until I went there. It’s much younger than I expected. It was really 13-18 year old kids, primarily female.
You didn’t know the YouTube audience was made up of teenagers?
You just really don’t know with YouTube. For us, before the channel, when we put stuff there we were primarily using repurposed content we’d created for other outlets. Our brand’s core is really 18-34. That’s on Yahoo, Hulu, YoungHollywood.com. So we would cater toward that. But YouTube is different.
A good example: During Oscars, we did a thing with Melissa and Joan Rivers, talking about fashion dos and don’t. Because that who’s on E!, and TV Guide, and they love it. We put it up on YouTube, and it didn’t perform — 13 to 18-year-olds probably had no idea who Melissa and Joan Rivers are.
So who do they like?
[YouTube make up princess] Michelle Phan. We put her up, we got hundreds of thousands of views right away. It’s not just a YouTube personality, but it’s that sort of demo, that sort of sensibility. You put up someone like Selena Gomez, huge numbers. Zach Efron, huge numbers. Anything “Hunger Games.” One of our highest-performing videos in the last few months was with the “Hunger Games” cast. But it’s not even the main stars, it’s the smaller names. That brand has such a rabid fan base, and that is the YouTube audience. You have “Hunger Games” in that tag and title, it’s going to go through the roof.
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